Kings of the Missouri/Chapter 15

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Chapter XV


IT WAS Lander's second visit to the American Fur Company's office within two hours. He had arrived that morning and had lost no time in presenting the order, only to find Parker was not down yet. He walked to the levee and watched Etienne Prevost superintend the removal of the beaver packs to the Washington Avenue store.

"Mr. Parker isn't here, and won't be here to-day," the clerk informed him on this second call. "He's sick. Say, Mr. Lander, the whole town's talking about your beaver. Prevost said you was to get ten thousand for yourself. Mr. Bridger must be a mighty nice feller to work for."

"He's the best there ever was," fervently declared Lander, thrilled to have even a clerk "mister" him.

Incidentally the town's gossip about his ten-housand-dollar bonus was correct, although Bridger could have claimed all for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company after paying the Hudson Bay Company its ten per cent., or four thousand dollars.

"He told me back in the mountains he would do right by me. He's done better than that. After saving me from Indian torture he didn't need to make me any present. If Mr. Bridger wants me to skin a skunk I'm ready for the job. I'll call to-morrow about the order——"

"Hold on!" cried the clerk, grinning sheepishly. "I got excited over your good luck—just a plain fool, I am. I sent a boy to Mr. Parker after your first visit. He sent back word for you to bring the order to him. If it's all right he'll O. K. it and you can put it in the bank."

"Why didn't you say so?" snapped Lander, darting from the office and hurrying to the Pine Street house.

His heart threatened to choke him as he entered the yard and mounted the porch and rang. His eyes were blurred and he felt faint as the door slowly opened. He expected to behold Susette. Instead it was a maid.

Without a word she motioned him to enter and go into a room off the hall. Again his heart played him tricks, but on entering the room he found only Parker. He was reclining in a chair and was scowling villainously.

"Show me that order," Parker growled. "Don't stand there like an idiot. Have you an order on the A. F. C. or haven't you?"

Without a word Lander presented it. Parker frowned over it, grunted several times, then endorsed it and handed it back and demanded:

"Why didn't you bring it here at once when you heard I was laid up? Loafing round town and enjoying your reputation for being a mountain man, eh? Pushing your smug face round for people to admire while your boss' business was sliding to the dogs."

"You forget I wasn't to come here till I was asked," Lander answered, his face dismal with disappointment. All the down-river day-dreams were dead. His medicine was weak and foolish.

"What about your getting a big batch of beaver?" sneered Parker.

"Jim Bridger pulled me and forty packs out of a Blackfoot camp. I take no credit for that," he wearily replied.

Then with a sudden flash of spirit:

"But I did help Mr. Bridger bring them from Fort Union in a keelboat we got from Mr. McKenzie. I am a little bit proud of that. Your whole Upper Missouri outfit tried to stop us and couldn't. Now I'll be going along."

"Stop, you idiot!" thundered Parker, and Lander wheeled expecting to be attacked. "You and your twopenny reputation! Want to get back down-town and have folks point you out, eh? You a mountain man! Why, you young pup—"

"That's enough," choked Lander. "I may never be a mountain man, but I'm done standing your abuse, sir."

"Then what'n the devil you hanging round here for? Huh? Eh? Get out, you impudent cub. Hi! Not that way. Out the back way, same's the servants do."

Pale with passion, yet compelling himself to remember it was a sick man and Susette's father. Lander persisted in making for the front door. Again Parker's voice called profanely after him and added:

"The other way! She's in the garden."

An hour passed before they began their return to earth.

"Your father was so queer. I don't understand it," said Lander. "I'm sure he sent me here. He said you were here. But he talked to me something— Well, never mind."

"I've been rather disagreeable to father since you went away," she cooed, snuggling closer. "I wouldn't eat anything—when he was around. Then that funny Etienne Prevost was up here this morning and talked with him. Their swearing was something terrible at first.

"Then father calmed down and let Prevost deliver a message Mr. Bridger sent by him. The message was all about you, and father must have listened with both ears. He thinks Mr. Bridger is awfully smart:

"But they were such horrible things about you I couldn't believe a word, of course. Killing people with knives! As if my darling would ever do that! But it was just the kind of stuff to please father. My maid listened at the keyhole like a little cat, and came and told me. Probably she made most of it up. But such awful stories, dearest! Still they pleased father, for I heard him chuckling after Mr. Prevost had gone.

"When he saw you coming he told me to come out here. I told him I was his daughter but that I must and would see you, and he said it would look better if you did the chasing. He hurt my pride terribly. But I knew he would send you to me and I felt better. And you are really and truly my King of the Missouri!"

"No, no," cried Lander. "I'm hardly fit to rank as a common soldier of the Missouri."

"A Prince of the Missouri, anyway—I'm partial to princes. And I like the way you wear your hair over your shoulders. Naughty! Hold still. It's my ribbon, you know. A prince should feel very proud to wear his lady's ribbon. Now you must come and let father see you in the new ribbon.… Now I know you don't love me!"